Upping the ante for cute and adorable is Smiles from Mike Kasprzak of Sykhronics Entertainment.  To my delight, this developer has found a way to pump fresh adrenaline into the crowded sub-genre of ‘match 3′ games.  How so?  Glad you asked.

The key play mechanic that sets it apart is how you form matches.  Instead of the typical method of swapping only adjacent tiles, Smiles works by having you effectively pick up a tile and place it anywhere on the board, as long as doing so makes a match of 3 or more on the horizontal or vertical.  Whatever tile you’re replacing then becomes the tile ‘in hand’ to place and so on.  This opens up the potential of a lot more matches, gobs of combos and quite frankly, big fun.  The tiles themselves are smiling (and often blinking) little bug-eyed widgets in what has to be a first for the genre…an impressive 3 unique themes to choose from (vegetables, seasonal and classic boardgame-like tiles) so visually there’s something to please everyone.  Falling tiles have a sort of ’squish’ to them when they come to rest and this, along with an excellent animation sequence, make combo chains a real joy to behold and provide a legitimate ‘hook’ to the game.  As you play you can accomplish 140+ ‘challenges’ (more commonly known as achievements) and I’ve mentioned before I just love this feature in games.  As expected, there’s a ‘trophy room’ where you can gloat over all you’ve gathered.  The game features rotation support so you can change gravity as you play.  Normally I’m not a fan of this but because of the ’tile in hand’ approach here it’s actually intuitive and truly enhances gameplay.  Your game always saves on exit and when a call comes in so all good there.  Unfortunately you can only have 1 game ongoing at any given time.  You can mute the sound at any time and the pause menu displays not only how much time you’ve spent playing but the actual time (very handy).  There’s no music included but iTunes music is supported (encouraged really).

This app bills itself as 2 games in 1 and I found that to be an accurate claim.  The game actually offers 3 modes but 2 are similar enough to be lumped together:

  • Zen – in this mode the object, through traditional match 3, is to light up all tiles.  Tiles only light up when matched and you have only the tiles you start with; matches don’t clear tiles.  This makes it a puzzle game in the classic brainteaser sense as you just know there’s a solution but you’ll be breaking matches left and right to form new ones and you’ll need to think ahead.  Excellent game mode, lots of fun and ‘game 1′ of the aforementioned claim.
  • Drop – in this mode, as you clear the board with match 3 play, new tiles may be encased in ice or simply be rocks.  Iced tiles can only be matched but never swapped and rocks can’t be matched or swapped.  Iced tiles can be shattered (turning them into normal tiles) and rocks crushed by dropping them 3 or more squares, depending on difficulty level.  This is the most fleshed out mode as there’s a silly amount of variations; reminds me of the old Atari 2600 where you hit the toggle switch for biplanes, triplanes, single shot, multishot etc.  Same concept here but it’s how far ice/rocks have to fall to break or how many unique tiles are present (up to 6).  This then is ‘game 2′.
  • Avalanche – in this variation on Drop mode all new tiles are encased in ice so it’s really just a question of how long you can hold out before being overcome by the advancing wave of ice.  Nice diversion and though you’ll be spending all your time in Zen and Drop, you’ll dip in here once in awhile.

Not too many gripes with this game as it’s solid as a tree trunk but as always, I can find something.  First, the ‘back’ button can become non-responsive when the phone is in a rotated position (namely upside down).  Rotating the phone back to the normal orientation immediately resolved it.  Second, rocks are pointless and only annoy the player.  Third, conspicuously missing are any form of powerups.  In one of my marvelous segues, I really wish the rocks, when broken, released a random powerup like dynamite (or something more pacifist like a water balloon), instant ‘de-icing’ or even just bonus points.  Fourth, you can ‘level up’ in Drop mode but I can’t make any sense of it; nothing changes, you just keep playing like nothing ever happened (beyond a little ‘level up’ indicator flashing).  Also, as with any game really, a global scoreboard would be awesome so hopefully that’ll be added in an update.

One might complain that the price is a bit higher than the competition but when you consider there truly are 2 standalone games included here, it’s justifiable and I would say worth it.  Definitely try the lite version first if you’re on the fence; I think you’ll be impressed as well.  In the end, Smiles is an awesome game that will thrill any fan of the match 3 genre and easily make converts of everyone else.  Recommended without reservation!

Version reviewed – 1.1
Global scoreboard – no, local only
iTunes music supported – yes
Lite version available – yes

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